Review: Quiet HDDs by Samsung, Hitachi & Seagate

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PERFORMANCE TESTING

With the exception of the 60G Hitachi, the drives were all benchmarked several times with SiSoftware Sandra (v. 2003.3.9.44) and HD Tach (2.61). The 60G Hitachi was left off for lack of time; besides the 120G sample provides a good picture of performance for the series anyway. The median result were screen captured and are presented here. No detailed commentary is offered; you will find the best analysis of hard drive performance at Storage Review. These benchmarks do tell a story of their own, however.

SiSoftware Sandra Benchmarks

HD Tach (2.61) Benchmarks

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Average Hard Drive Temperatures as measured via DTemp

The ambient temperature was 20C in the test lab, and the drives were out in the open. These were the highest temperatures seen with each of the drives after several runs of the above benchmarks.

Model
Temp
Barracuda IV 40G
36C
Samsung SP1604N
32C
Hitachi 180GXP 120G
34C
Hitachi 180GXP 60G
33C

Performance Summary

There are no surprises in performance. The Hitachi 180GXP wins decisively in all categories, which is expected with its 8 MB of buffer cache memory. Its' random access time as measured by HD Tach, which is likely the most noticeable hard drive performance parameter in desktop computing, is right in line with its claimed specs at 12.7 ms. Take away the 4.17 ms or so of latency and we have right around 8.5 ms, as claimed. In actual use, it also feels like the fastest of these drives.

The Samsung SP1604N is a very good performer and in real use, feels significantly faster than the Barracuda IV. The random access time is a bit of a puzzle, as it neither feels that slow or is specified to be that slow. Even after accounting for the latency, this drive measured 2~3.3 ms slower than specified.

The Barracuda IV brings up the rear, but remains a perfectly good performer in the various test platforms for SPCR. It is also the drive being used to create this page.

It is interesting to note that the Barracuda IV consistently ran at least 2 degrees C hotter than the other drives. Perhaps the SeaShield and foam damping over the PCB circuit has this effect.

CONCLUSIONS

The Seagate Barracuda IV remains the hard drive to beat for low noise. The acoustic standard established nearly two years ago remains intact today; that is notable in this fast moving industry. The performance of the Barracuda IV is no longer enough to keep up against the competition, and it is no surprise that the IV is being replaced by the V. Still, at their current prices, the IVs must be some of the best bargains quiet computing enthusiasts have ever seen.

The Hitachi 180GXP continues the tradition inherited from IBM of very speedy performance with low noise but a bit of whine and that questionable chirp. For a performance machines, it is a great choice, and there will be some application where its performance bias will make it the ideal choice. The Hitachi has the reputation of being only a hair slower than the much louder Western Digitals of similar specification. A different sample of the single-platter version may well be capable of better noise performance than my sample exhibited as well.

The Samsung SP1604N, whose arrival instigated this roundup review, turns out to be a most pleasant surprise, coming within a hair of the Barracuda IV for noise and falling in between the Hitachi and Seagate for performance. The slow seek times seemed anomalous but were consistent. In actual use, I often found the Samsung to be slightly less obtrusive than the Barracuda IV because its seek noise was so low.

In the decouple-mounting I normally use to install hard drives (DIY suspensions or NoVibes), the seeks became completely inaudible, making the noise of the Samsung utterly stable and consistent. There was no appreciable overall noise difference between the Samsung and Barracuda IV in a noise-optimized case/system, but the seeks of the latter could sometimes be heard at low levels. This is despite the 2-platters of the Samsung.

The lack of dynamic changes in noise is a key ingredient to good low-annoyance noise performance, and in this regard the Samsung is the best I have yet to hear. Its performance comes as a bonus. We can anticipate that the single-platter versions of this drive would be even quieter, and the 8 MB buffer versions would be faster; I look forward to examining both variants in future.

All of the drives reviewed here are suitable for low noise PC systems. The Barracuda IV and Samsung models are nearly ideal, and the Hitachi models more challenging to silence -- but not impossible. All have their place in the silent PC enthusiast's repertoire of components.

Much thanks to Samsung Canada for the SP1604N review sample and information support, as well as to Hitachi Global Storage Technologies for the 180GXP samples and their information support.

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